Objective: Systemic sclerosis (SSc) can lead to ischemic complications such as digital ulcers (DUs). The aim of the study was to find predictors of DUs by clinical and new imaging methods.
Patients and methods: All 79 SSc patients included in the study received a clinical, colour Doppler ultrasound (CDUS), fluorescence optical imaging (FOI) and capillaroscopy examination at baseline, and their capacity to predict new DU development was analysed in 76 patients at 12 months follow-up.
Results: Twenty-two of 76 patients (28.9%) developed new ulcers during follow-up (diffuse SSc 48.1%; limited SSc 18.4%). Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis revealed an area under the curve of 0.7576 for DU development, with a specificity of 87% and a sensitivity of 54.6% (p = 0.0003, OR = 8.1 [95%CI 2.5-25.6]) at a cut-off of ≥ 21 points (ACR/EULAR classification criteria for SSc). Capillaroscopy and CDUS had high sensitivity (100% and 95.5%) but low specificity (28.9% and 22.2%) for ulcer occurrence when used alone, but better specificity (46.3%) when combined (OR = 18.1 [95%CI 2.3-144.4]; p = 0.0004). Using FOI, fingers with pathologic staining had a higher risk for new ulcer development in the same finger (p = 0.0153). General future DU (i.e. DU also in other fingers) was associated with a missing FOI signal in the right digit III at baseline (p = 0.048).
Conclusion: New imaging modalities can predict digital ulcer development in SSc patients with high sensitivity for capillaroscopy and CDUS and enhanced specificity when combined. A missing signal of FOI in the right digit III at baseline was associated with general future DU.
Keywords: Capillaroscopy; Color Doppler ultrasound; Digital ulcers; Disturbed microcirculation; Fluorescence optical imaging; Raynaud’s phenomenon; Systemic sclerosis.